Ross County moved out of the relegation zone after securing a crucial 2-1 victory at St Johnstone.
The Staggies made the perfect start when Regan Charles-Cook put them ahead, only for Jacob Butterfield’s deflected effort to restore parity three minutes later.
County spurned a glorious chance to regain their lead later in the first half when Ross Callachan hit the post with a penalty.
The former Saints midfielder make amends when he netted the winner with 20 minutes remaining, opening up a four-point gap above the bottom-placed Perth outfit in County’s penultimate game of 2021.
Moments prior to kick-off, both clubs received confirmation the winter break will begin after the Boxing Day fixtures. That means County will finish for 2021 against Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday, with their home matches against Motherwell and Aberdeen postponed until early next year.
The trip to McDiarmid Park in itself was a rearranged fixture, which had initially been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch after County had arrived in Perth for its initial scheduling on December 4.
County made three changes from the side which conceded late to draw 1-1 with Livingston on Saturday. Connor Randall, Jordan Tillson and Dominic Samuel made way, with skipper Keith Watson, Ross Callachan and Joseph Hungbo drafted in.
The Staggies were coming up against an out of form Saints side which had lost its last five league games to drop below them to the foot of the Premiership. Callum Davidson’s side were depleted, with Zander Clark, Shaun Rooney and Chris Kane among those absent.
Both sides looked to generate early pressure, with a Charles-Cook delivery narrowly evading Joseph Hungbo on its way through to Elliott Parish.
Parish was called into action again on seven minutes, this time comfortably gathering a low Harry Clarke strike from distance.
County continued to threaten, with David Cancola and Charles-Cook both failing to keep efforts down from the edge of the box.
The Staggies took the lead with a sublime move on 16 minutes though, with their two wingers combining to devastating effect. Hungbo received the ball in the middle of the park before quickly releasing Charles-Cook with a pinpoint through ball, and he showed excellent composure to lift the ball over Parish.
County were immediately pegged back just three minutes later however. Midfielder Butterfield, who was making his home debut for Saints, took aim with a long-range strike which took a heavy deflection off Callachan to wrongfoot Ash Maynard-Brewer.
The goal lifted the home side, with James Brown seeing a powerful drive from the edge of the box blocked behind by Charles-Cook.
The Staggies were handed the perfect chance to regain their lead on 28 minutes when Hungbo’s free-kick was blocked by the arm of Craig Bryson as he jumped within the Saints wall. Callachan stepped up confidently and although he sent Parish the wrong way, his effort came off the outside of the post before bouncing clear.
Mackay made a change to his rearguard at the interval, with Watson going off to be replaced by Randall.
The Staggies had edged the first half but they had to face up to Saints pressure shortly after the break, with Stevie May seeing a shot blocked into the arms of Maynard-Brewer in a Saints move which emanated from Jack Baldwin’s slack ball across the backline.
County threatened on 57 minutes when White forced a fine save from Parish with a header from Charles-Cook’s cross, although the forward was penalised for a foul in any case.
The visitors continued to look dangerous, with Cancola seeing an effort deflected wide by Bryson following a Randall cutback from the right.
The Staggies were not to be denied on 69 minutes however. Charles-Cook supplied a cross for White, whose header came back off the post, however Callachan was on hand to thump home the rebound.
County looked to extend their lead, with substitute Samuel clipping the bar with a strike from 20 yards, while Hungbo blasted over after being played through by Callachan, however the Staggies held on.
ST JOHNSTONE (3-5-2) – Parish 6; Dendoncker 6, Gordon 6, McCart 6; Brown 6, Davidson 6, Bryson 5 (Crawford 73), Butterfield 6, Booth 5 (Middleton 73); May 6, O’Halloran 5 (Solomon-Otabor 61). Subs not used – Sinclair, Devine, Craig, Muller.
ROSS COUNTY (4-2-3-1) – Maynard-Brewer 6; Clarke 6, Watson 5 (Randall 46), Baldwin 7, Vokins 6; Spittal 7, Cancola 5 (D Samuel 70); Hungbo 6, Callachan 7, Charles-Cook 8 (Tillson 75); White 7. Subs not used – Laidlaw, A Samuel, Burroughs, B Paton.
Referee – Willie Collum
Man of the match: Regan Charles-Cook